Disclaimer: I’m not conducting pop psychoanalysis here—don’t you hate it when amateurs do that in the social media, usually to insult someone? I know nothing of Peter MacKay’s personal life, and have no wish to. But he sure does have an odd way of talking publicly about women, this being 2014 and all. It’s striking, even within Conservative ranks. Is he saying out loud what his colleagues are thinking?
Whatever Freud wrote about his cases, it should be clear that the madonna/whore binary extends well beyond the clinic. MacKay, of course, was notorious for his sexism well before the current controversies surrounding his sex work bill, women judges, and those bizarre emails circulated to employees of the Department of Justice. He was the one who referred to his ex-flame Belinda Stronach as a “dog,” and on another occasion advised the then-leader of the NDP, Alexa MacDonough, to “stick to her knitting.”
But now, in space of only a few weeks, MacKay has stepped in it, not once, not twice, but three times.
There were the aforementioned emails, one sent on Mother’s Day, the other on Father’s Day. In the former he praised female employees for balancing work and life, the latter including, inter alia, changing diapers, making the kids’ school lunches, and preparing dinner. In the latter, he congratulated fathers for “shaping the minds and futures of the next generation of leaders.” Surely I needn’t comment on the obvious, except to note that the contrast here is somewhat less than subtle. Stark, one might say.
Then there were his comments about the paucity of female judges being appointed to the bench. They just aren’t applying, he said. Too busy bonding with their kids, he said—although, as has been pointed out, given the age of your average newly-appointed judge, any kids would be in high school at the very least, many of them doing their best to shake off that self-same bond.
Perhaps needless to say, some female applicants for the judiciary have contested his claim. At present, though, such stories are anecdotal, because MacKay won’t, or can’t, tell us how many would-be judges of the female persuasion actually apply for the positions available.
Instead of backtracking when the fur began to fly, MacKay proceeded to double down. (He utterly failed to address the pallour of the current judiciary, too. But later for that.) It took veteran parliamentarian Irwin Cotler to inject some facts into the discussion, and they don’t happen to lean MacKay’s way.
Turning now from madonnas to whores, MacKay’s new and dangerous “made in Canada” prostitution bill, a crib of the Nordic model, has been panned by sex workers and even by Conservative-friendly commentators like John Ivison. The prohibitionists love it, of course, and so do the social conservatives who form a goodly portion of Harper’s red meat base. But I don’t want to return to that particular debate just now.
Instead, we should pay attention to MacKay’s language when describing his initiative. The johns who contract with sex workers, he says, are “perverts,” he says, a word that I will admit I haven’t heard for many decades, when the term referred, inter alia, to gays and child molesters. It has somewhat of an old parchment smell about it. As for the women, “Prostitutes are predominantly victims. They have very much, in some cases, run out of options before entering this particular pursuit.”
That’s not what the sex workers themselves claim, but hey. The image of a poor, degraded woman forced to sell sex—the “slut” who gives it away for free being the opposite side of the self-same coin—has its visceral appeal. To some, anyway, not the least of whom appears to be Minister MacKay himself. When it comes to women, in fact, the poor man just can’t seem to put a foot right. Maybe it’s time for a helicopter rescue.
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